Colombian official convicted of ‘psychological torture’ of journalist

Bogotá, Colombia, December 22, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the conviction of a former high-ranking Colombian intelligence official who on December 19 was sentenced to 11 years in prison for carrying out a campaign of aggression and death threats against investigative journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, according to news reports.

Hugo Daney Ortiz, the former deputy director of operations for the Administrative Department of Security (DAS)–Colombia’s national intelligence service until it was dissolved in 2011–was found guilty by a Bogotá criminal court of carrying out “aggravated psychological torture” against Duque and her daughter in 2003 and 2004.

“We welcome this conviction as a rare victory against impunity in Colombia,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Only by investigating and prosecuting all those responsible in the persecution and harassment of journalist Claudia Julieta Duque can the message be sent that such behavior will not be tolerated.”

At the time of the threats Duque had been investigating links between DAS and the 1999 murder of prominent Colombian journalist and satirist Jaime Garzón. Former DAS assistant director José Miguel Narváez stands accused of orchestrating the murder of Garzón and is currently on trial. He has denied the charges. Narváez is also part of a group of former DAS officials, which included Ortiz, who were sentenced to preventive detention in 2013 on charges of psychologically torturing and threatening Duque.

While carrying out her investigation, Duque received anonymous death threats against her and her young daughter, according to CPJ research. She later secured access to DAS files that showed how the agency’s officials were instructed to intimidate her through violent threats and phone calls and to implicate other Colombian officials in order to thwart suspicion, according to news reports. Because of the threats, Duque was forced to end her investigation and temporarily fled the country three times, according to reports.

“His conviction is the Christmas present that I wanted most,” Duque, a correspondent for Colombia’s human rights Internet-based radio station Radio Nizkor, told reporters.

During the 2002-2010 administration of President Álvaro Uribe, the DAS was caught spying on presidential critics, including judges, politicians, human rights activists and reporters. Details of the spying were revealed by news magazine Semana in 2009. Current President Juan Manuel Santos disbanded the DAS in 2011.

In 2011, Uribe accused Duque and U.S. journalist Juan Forero of being sympathizers of terrorists and leftist guerrillas after they published a story in The Washington Post alleging that the former president may have been involved in illegal actions using the DAS.

In the past few years, illegal espionage of journalists represented one of the most serious threats to press freedom in Colombia, CPJ research shows. From 2004 to 2009, local reporters had their phones intercepted, their e-mails hacked, and were subjected to surveillance and harassment. Almost six years after the scandal broke, at least 17 former DAS officials, out of 68 identified as responsible in the illegal espionage scheme, have been sentenced to jail terms, according to news reports.